Pathological collectors


Dalrymple on the Joyce Carol Oates story The Museum of Dr Moses in the British Medical Journal (subscription required):



The story reminded me of a forensic pathologist whom I once knew. His room was that of a learned man, piled high with journals, papers, and textbooks. But also on the shelves were mementos of his work, such as bottled abortions, the ropes with which people had been hanged (both judicially and suicidally), the trouser buttons of rapists, knives and bullets, bottles of poison used for murderous purposes, and so on. In those days, no one worried how or why he had come by them; he collected them as other people collected plaster frogs or model hippopotamuses. I think he delighted in the thrill of horror that his room excited in the unprepared. They, of course, enjoyed their own feeling of horror.


Is it not strange that we enjoy fear even though we seek security? It is as though we need danger to reassure ourselves that our lives are not completely without import. In another of the stories in the collection in which The Museum of Dr Moses appears, a little boy, an only child, almost drowns in a suburban swimming pool. He has anoxia, is resuscitated by a doctor, and, like the famous case of Phineas Gage whose accident changed his character entirely, changes from sweet to sinister. He becomes feral, which is also the title of the story. Not only life, but character, hangs by a thread—and perhaps that is how we like it.

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